Published: December 2009/January 2010
Wild Roads: Lone Star Scramble
Forget West Palm. Warm up in west Texas. Dive desert springs, bomb Big Bend singletrack—but watch your step with the rattlers.
Text by Ian Dille

This is what winter’s like high up in the Chihuahuan Desert: 65-degree days, wild horses in the valleys, and a few snowdrifts on the mesas overlooking Mexico. In the lands surrounding 1,200-square-mile Big Bend National Park the year’s coldest months are just an excuse to turn the AC off, roll the windows down, and crank up the Willie Nelson.

ONE: Oh, it also happens to be a great time for diving—yes, diving—in Balmorhea State Park’s San Solomon Springs. Here, 20 million gallons of water pass through a two-acre pool each day, an ideal habitat for the rare and highly endangered pupfish. Water temps run a consistent 76 degrees year-round, so wetsuits are optional ($7; tpwd.state.tx.us). Nearby is the Fort Davis rattlesnake museum, a good place to find rattlers that aren’t already roadkill ($4; 432-426-2465). In Marfa, order a Marfalafel from the Food Shark, a delivery van parked next to the railroad tracks (foodsharkmarfa.com), and grab a room at the Hotel Paisano, which served as HQ for James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor during the making of Giant ($99; hotelpaisano.com).

TWO: Pinto Canyon Road winds through the stunning Chinati Mountain backcountry, but it’s for high-clearance vehicles only (not hard to come by . . . this is Texas). Soak in the hundred-degree pools at Chinati Hot Springs, a no-frills lodge with luxurious spring-fed bathtubs and Hubble-quality stargazing ($79; chinatihotsprings.com).

THREE: Rent a knobby-tired bike in Terlingua, and buy some extra tubes, from Desert Sports ($30; desertsportstx.com), then set out on the Contrabando Multi-Use Trail System’s 30 miles of singletrack or the 600 miles of fire road running through Big Bend Ranch State Park—Big Bend N.P.’s less visited but no less attractive neighbor. After a day of desert riding, hit happy hour ($2 margaritas and $1 tacos!) and listen to live honky-tonk at the Starlight Theatre (starlighttheatre.com).